Accept the Hiccups: A Marathon Training Update

Can you recall what it’s like in those minutes right before a physical activity (or training) you’re pumped about?

Maybe you’re about to hike the Appalachian Trail or start a multi-day bike trip across New Zealand or you’re waiting to start the Boston Marathon. Your gear is all together, the music is pumping, and you start to loosen up. Those few minutes are peculiar. The adrenaline starts to flow and you’re ready to go. Once you begin, it’s exhilarating. Because you feel good, and you start to savor how you feel and how it feels to be outside and to be moving. Invariably, it’s thrilling! When you think of this in the context of competition, the adrenaline flow, the nerves, the thrills are even more amplified.

During activity, we often expect to feel a little bad. We all know that feelings of fatigue and some pain are part of the challenge of sport, competition, and adventure. Challenge is inherent to the joy which comes with finishing and accomplishing something big. Challenge is the reason we do these things. But normally feeling bad happens much further along in the timeline of physical activity. Thus it’s really weird when you’re feeling pumped all the way till that moment when you do start to move, and then you can’t move. In fact, you can’t even move five steps.

This was what I experienced six days ago. And my grand adventure of a humble 30 minute recovery jog didn’t last more than 10 seconds. As of today, I still can’t run.

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I have been wary of injury for years. Ankles have been sprained, but sprains are easily associated to rocks and stumbles. I’ve been lucky to stay away from bigger problems like Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis. Mobility exercises, drills, rest, weight lifting, eating right, good shoes are just a few of the things which I have dedicated time in hopes of injury prevention. I’m not really certain what happened.

In the past month, I have been running really hard. After finally running a sub-1:20 half marathon this past January, the goal I was chasing for almost a year, my next logical goal was to transfer this performance to a full marathon. I adjusted my focus to the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon which is only six weeks away. The last marathon I ran was the Virginia Beach Shamrock Marathon almost nine years ago. Reflecting on that race, I was ignorant about how to properly train and race a full marathon, and that race was a good first half marathon followed by 13 miles of survival with some massive bonks thrown in. Yet I still ran a Boston Qualifying time of 2:58.

With my accumulated half marathon experience, why wouldn’t I be able to train smartly and get in full marathon shape to run at least a better race? In theory, running in the 2:40’s is realistic for me. My training has been going well. In the past couple weeks, I was running 6-8 mile tempo runs at 6:08/mile pace, and the day before my aborted jogging attempt, I completed a 16 mile fast finish progression starting at 7:00/mile and finishing at sub-6:00/mile pace. I have been running about 30-40 miles a week, which is not too much, and I have been lifting weights, doing mobility, even swimming all in an effort to get into the best shape I can. But I’ve also been working on night shift and good sleep has not been easy.

Unfortunately, the actual diagnosis won’t be for another couple weeks, but we think my injury is either a posterior shin splint or, fingers crossed it isn’t, maybe a stress fracture. Although I do have some theories about why I might be injured, this post is about something else… How do you productively accept a setback? Or in my case, how do you accept a running setback in the middle of preparing for something important?

To be honest, I don’t know how to reach acceptance. There is a chance it could be nothing major because I still don’t have a diagnosis, but the fact I can’t run without pain is unsettling. It might just be a strain, and I’ll be able to recover much faster. If it is something worse, then my spring training will turn into a period of focused rehabilitation. What I’m challenged with is looking at this hiccup in a positive light, and I think it’s key to recognize the opportunities inherent to dealing with a possible injury. For one, now I will have some time to catch up on things like spending more time with my wife, writing, cooking, weight lifting, and folding laundry. And perhaps effectively bouncing back from this process will make me a well rounded runner and a better person in the long term. I’ve watched and admired how my wife Anna inspires so many others with her resourcefulness and patience to endure through her challenges. This is one of many reasons I love her so much, and her example inspires me to be positive.

For now, I’m laying off of training to let myself heal and not exacerbate my condition. Oklahoma might not happen for me, but 2016 is still young, and I have every intention to run road marathons and ultras down the road. To get there, I will need to be extremely patient and positive in going forth. This week I’m planning to get more acquainted with the stationary bike and the swimming pool to reach a very modest goal of running 50 steps with no pain, and then more baby step micro-goals will continue until I’m ready to train again.

I’m interested in any advice you have. Have you ever had a setback in the midst of training, and how do you think it made you better? Thanks for reading this and I really appreciate any thoughts you’re willing to share.

riro i te ora

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